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As Exceptionally American As It Gets


As Exceptionally American As It Gets

Pierre Tristam

Every nation has its recognizable rituals, its routines that make national character stand out more distinctly than anything else. Brazil has soccer or Rio’s carnivals. Saudi Arabia has the Hajj around Mecca. Spain has Valencia’s tomato-throwing day or the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Ireland has St. Patrick’s Day and India has Diwali, its five-day festival of light.

We have mass shootings.


There is a lie that the future follows a linear progression that gives rise to the false conceit that progress is ever marching forward.

The greater truth is that all things cycle starting with our planet in its 365 day orbit that defines our count of time in years.

This circling motion also pertains to verifiable cycles that give time its meaning. Every day is not like every other.

Also true is this idea of enduring archetypes which the Ancient Romans and Greeks immortalized through mythology. This is an example of the wisdom of antiquity surpassing that of today's one-size-fits-all myths about human psychology.

One of the dominant and all too enduring archetypes is Mars, also known as Ares, god of war. And I've often pointed out through such examples as the kind of money annually earmarked for the military industrial complex, soldiers, and a continuous investment in and development of new weapon... that it is not Jesus, but this war god who is widely (and erroneously, given the evidence) worshiped.

Hollywood does its part to glamorize and glorify the warrior, soldier, or policeman who LOVES to shoot his weapon. Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" gave that persona a life of its own.

Therefore, what Mr. Tristam accurately portrays is just how deep this Mars Rules idolatry (never called by name) goes:

"Guns are our plague’s rodents, sanctified even when they’re the only instrument of mass-murder. The bigger the guns the bigger the halo. The same assault weapons made for soldiers and mercenaries are worshiped like relics from the cross."

While preventing assault weapons from joining the celebration of arms popularly championed by the NRA would go a long way towards thwarting mass shootings... the spiritual component that would help to shift consciousness away from so strong an identification with Brute Force would be explaining that all this has NOTHING to do with Jesus, model for the various Christian religious sects and EVERYTHING to do with the old war god.

A shift in consciousness, in other words, is part of the medicine required to heal this nation of its conditioned obsession with every possible expression of armed violence.

P.S. I really want to compliment Mr. Tristam on the allusions utilized in this essay. The writing springs to life from the page.


Having acquired some street smarts during an errant youth I always assumed that when some pundit or politician talked about American Exceptionalism it meant I should check to see if my wallet was still in my back pocket. As the empire circles the drain, no doubt the cries of exceptionalism will increase in volume. One can only wonder what it will mean in the future. As Mr. Tristam points out, it already should tell one to "take cover". Soon the decibel level will tell us, "only trust your closet friends", "don't believe anything on NPR" (whoops, already means that), "the Gestapo are down the street", "hoard food"...



I'm looking for Facebook's somewhat expanded choice of reactions, though none of them is quite right either. It's so sad that this is true. I realize it's a large part of the reason I participate in fewer and fewer of the scheduled celebrations of "America."

We must find a way to stop it.


Murkin exceptionalism is code for nationalism, a corrosive mindset that has destroyed many nations, always from within.


Fine article, Mr. Tristam. I believe you covered everything. However, there is an elephant in the room...the fact that we are a militaristic nation with a huge arms budget and a propensity to settle things with weaponry.


Awesome piece of brutally truthful journalism, Pierre Tristam.

How few writers reach this level of readable soulful honest prose: Mark Twain, Mike Royko, Frank Getlein, Jimmy Breslin are a few who come to mind.

Still this country will not consider any restrictions on assault weapons, and the violent ritual thrives around us.


Great comment - will it be understood? Sink in? Unfortunately, math like that "does not compute" in the exceptional minds


You cannot build a society based on slavery, violence and eternal war and escape the results.


i like the way the three basic permaculture principles encapsulate the morality you reference:

Care for the Earth
Care for the People
Fair Share for All


Is that the same as saying it's a patriarchal death cult?


Jimmy Breslin called it when,
after 9/11, he pointed out
That whenever an officer is killed in the line of duty, the NYPD virtually shuts down
until the perpetrator is caught,
Framing the whole affair as a Crime and not an Act of War.
Voices with insights such as his have been purged from the ranks of the Fourth Estate steadily since then.


Very good article. Which I think it should have also made some room for people killed by police - that according to the non-rigorous data collected at will from the media - stands at around 100 people per month. Every month, of every year.


As long as "our" government routinely solves foreign policy issues by waging war or by extrajudicial killlings by drone or other means, it reinforces the notion deeply embedded in the American psyche that eliminating the "bad guys" solves problems.

That is the root of the problem.

Yes, assault weapons shouldn't be in the hands of civilians. I agree. And a whole bunch more proposed gun legislation makes sense. In the Old West guns were surrendered to the Sheriff's office as soon as one entered town. Made sense then. Why not now?

But without the fundamental conviction that killing a bunch of people is somehow going to make things better, an assault rifle would be as benign as the broom in the kitchen.


Great point! The myth of redemptive violence. And that is a big part of where the Christian mythology contributes to the mess. Blood atonement is a terrible theology.


When my son was young the 'approved' word for kids like him was 'exceptional' ... he is severely retarded ... when I take stock of our elected 'officials' I absolutely agree that America IS exceptional!


You're right -- that is the root of the problem; and we have been 'taught' that we are the 'good guys' while those who are 'different' are not 'us'. We put the good guys (Chelsea Manning) in prison for showing what our elected terrorists have done -- indiscriminate death by drone. No wonder there are those who want to show us what it feels like in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Yemen, and Syria, and Libya; honestly, I'm rather surprised there haven't been more attacks here.


I agree that mass shootings are a ritual central to our culture but I would argue that such weapon-worship and murder go back to our national beginnings, even here in what is now the liberal and humane northeast. When they first encountered each other, the crucial difference between Europeans and native Americans was the possession of firearms. Here in the Hudson Valley, the genocide began with European disease but accelerated when Dutch merchants traded muskets for furs, leading the better armed Iroquois to decimate populations far into what is now Canada and as far west as Illinois. To our immediate east, the Puritans of New England did their own killing off of native peoples in King Philips War and similar, one-sided slaughters. The possession of firearms was also the prime reason Europeans were able to enslave African peoples - the Hudson Valley setting a record for slave ownership north of the Mason Dixon line.

Once the last of the Iroquois had been driven off and slavery abolished, this area began its generations long devotion to humanitarian causes, ranging from abolition of slavery to women's rights - making this feel like a much more civilized society than so much of the south and west of this nation. Religion here is restrained and gun control laws quite effective but this pleasant surface only obscures the death-cult in which we share as Americans.

Way back when I was in high school, there was a mass shooting in a nearby town, a host of suicides and domestic murders and a good friend of mine was shot to death by a crazed local youth. More recently, we have just narrowly missed school shootings but the day-to-day mayhem is constant in the rust belt cities like Albany and Schenectady and depleted rural regions that surround them.

James Joyce once wrote of his native Ireland that "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken," and the same can be said our own dark and bloody history. How you do that awakening is the real question.


Canada and Australia both have histories of genocide against aboriginal peoples in the past continuing to enduring inequalities in the present day. In both countries, a mass shooting event (Ecole Polytechnique and Port Arthur respectively) led to prompt changes in legislation. One historical difference between these countries and the U.S. is the lack of plantation-style agriculture dependent on slavery.There were slaves in Canada, but they were never all that common. Another is a lower level of overt religiosity -- people in Canada are less likely to go to church and it is considered bad form to brag about your beliefs. The Canadian west was divided up in a "checkerboard" pattern which largely prevented any one ethnic or religious group from dominating a settlement area, whereas it was more common for groups of like-minded American settlers to set up communities dominated by a single ethos.

What I cannot fathom is why so many Americans seem to feel that they are in daily danger of death and need to be vigilant and heavily armed as they go about their daily lives.


I think we too often turn to war as a "solution" to our problems. I'm not sure if this is a "patriarchal death cult."
I need to research that term to make sure I know what you mean. Is this tied into our sacrificial religions?